The Jesuit Historical Institute in Africa (JHIA) on 5 October 2023 organised a webinar Café Engelbert Mveng series attracting a good number of participants virtually.

The main presentation was delivered by Rev. Dr. Festo Mkenda, SJ introducing his audience to his recently published book: The Splash of Diamond: The Jesuit Presence in Ethiopia from 1945 to Present, a joint publication by the Institutum Historicum Societatis Iesu (IHSI) of Rome, and the Jesuit Historical Institute in Africa (JHIA), Nairobi. The session was moderated by Dr. Jean Luc Enyegue, SJ., director of JHIA.

A Splash of Diamond is the first book featuring in the series of IHSI Global, launched in 2023. This series looks at Jesuit History through global lenses. Dr. Camilla Russell, the Publications Editor - IHSI congratulated the team that helped produce the book, which, she believes, is the first of a promising series. The book itself revolves around three key players which are the Jesuits, the Canadian government and the Ethiopian people and their successive governments. It is outlined in six chapters namely: Before the Canadians, Ethiopia Calling Again, Tafari Makonnen School (TMS), The University College of Addis Ababa (UCAA), TMS, UCCA and Beyond and Canadian Jesuits in Ethiopia in the Province of Eastern Africa.

The catchy title of the book is informed by the value that Emperor Haile Selassie invested in education. He was obsessed with the idea of having quality education for the young generation of Ethiopians.

…many books have been written to the effect that knowledge is a treasure that must be grasped and which no one can confiscate. It is a diamond without price, which prevents, the breaking of heaven’s decrees and preserve one from the path of destruction…

The second reason that informed the author’s choice of title was the arrival of the Canadian Jesuits — 1946 which is seen as the critical Diamond Jubilee for the continued presence of Jesuits in Ethiopia that culminated with the year 2020 celebration of the 75 years Jubilee.

The first two chapters of the book tell the story before and the immediate arrival of Canadians in Ethiopia which summarises Jesuit History from the 16th – 17th century. The third chapter highlights different successful Jesuit activities in Ethiopia with a focus on the Tafari Makonnen school.

The fourth chapter focuses on The University College of Addis Ababa (UCAA) now commonly known as The University of Addis Ababa where the Emperor requested the Jesuits in collaboration with the Ethiopian Ministry of Education to design tertiary programs that could answer the needs of the Ethiopian people. The fifth chapter talks about the change in the political situation in Ethiopia and the resistance forces that made Jesuit operations in Ethiopia untenable. The last chapter of the book is a narrative of the absence of Canadian Jesuits in Ethiopia and the presence of Ethiopian Jesuits in the land, with growing vocations among the Ethiopians, some of whom attended the webinar with certain excitement and a sense of gratitude.

Ultimately, in this new book, Dr. Mkenda shares a new chapter on the history of the Jesuits in Ethiopia with some fascinating factual evidence given in both narrative and pictorial illustrations. In the first part of this history, he brings out the scholarships in the 16th and 17th centuries. The author addresses the gaps in the history of the Society in Ethiopia, by developing a narrative that meets every scholarly credential and, at the same time, remains accessible to ordinary people everywhere. Special attention is given to the Ethiopian people, the Ethiopian Jesuits, and the specific contribution of Canadian Jesuits in reforming the Ethiopian education system placed under Emperor Haile Selassie. One cannot state enough the enormous contribution of these missionaries in nation nation-building of post-independent Ethiopia. Yet, as Dr. Enyegue observed, the originality of A Splash of Diamond lies in the fact that it talks about the contemporary history of the Society of Jesus in Ethiopia, under the direction and supervision of an African political leader.

Dr. Mkenda is a Jesuit Priest from Tanzania, currently serving as the Academic Director at Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu (ARSI) (Roman Archives of the Society of Jesus). Before joining ARSI, Dr. Mkenda served as the founding director of the JHIA, Nairobi from 2011 to 2020. His publications are mostly in books, articles, and journals focusing on Jesuit History. Examples of such publications are A Mission for Everyone. A Story of the Jesuits in Eastern Africa 2014 — (1555–2012); Jesuits in Africa: A Historical Narrative from Ignatius of Loyola to Pedro Arrupe (Brill Research Perspectives in Jesuit Studies); an edited volume: Encounters Between Jesuits and Protestants in Africa, which came out of The Boston College International Symposia on Jesuit Studies, 2, 2013. These and many other publications have earned him international recognition with the Ganss Award in 2022, which recognizes prominent world scholars in the field of Jesuit Studies.